Tag Archives: stephen magnusson

BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE — WANGARATTA

James Greening

The inimitable James Greening, leader of Greening From Ear to Ear

A FESTIVAL GUIDE:

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival, Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November.

It’s that time of year when excitement and an air of expectation begin to override all the mundane matters of life, necessary as they are, and the longing rises to be on the road again to Wangaratta.

Once the bags are packed and the journey has begun, there is that delicious interlude when speculation can occur on what unexpected delights may arise — what special moments in a concert will take you out of the straight-line world and into total absorption.

There will always be the appeal of the international artists, who bring a different perspective and virtuosic skills. But the special moments — or whole sets — may come when they, along with Australian jazz players, join old friends or musicians new to them and go in an unexpected direction. These are the serendipitous moments that will be remembered.

The challenge for patrons, then, is to be in the right place at the right time.

As posted back in July, Artistic Director Adrian Jackson‘s line-up for the long weekend of jazz and blues features more than 300 musicians in more than 80 concerts on the main program, and more than 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages. So there is plenty of potential for magic moments.

Jeff 'Tain" Watts

Jeff ‘Tain” Watts        (Image supplied)

International artists include European jazz, trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (Italy); Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) with his band, which includes New York-based expatriate Australian saxophonist out of Perth, Troy Roberts; and composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA), who spent time in Brisbane years ago.

Lisa Parrot

Lisa Parrot                              (Image supplied)

Also, New York-based saxophonist, formerly of Sydney, Lisa Parrot, returns to the festival two decades after being runner-up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Anyone looking for a serendipitous moment should be in WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm Sunday 2 November when Rava will reunite with drum maestro Niko Schauble‘s Papa Carlo in the line-up that recorded their album Night Music in 1995.

Another reunion to watch will come in two gigs by  Spoke (USA), in which drummer Danny Fischer will get together with the band, including Andy Hunter on trombone, formed when Fischer was living in New York in 2006.

And keep an ear out for  Roger Manins, who will slip over from New Zealand to re-form his band Hip Flask, featuring Stu Hunter on organ.

Australian musicians are certain to contribute distinctive and inventive highlights on the program, among them being the Australian Art Orchestra’s Louis Armstrong-inspired work Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, conceived and composed/arranged by Eugene Ball and AAO Artistic Director Peter Knight, which uses Armstrong’s letters to reframe the smiling entertainer’s facade and reveal his pain. Guest performers for this Friday evening gig will be drummer Allan Browne, Sydney turntablist Martin Ng and PNG-born pop artist Ngaire. Expect the unexpected in this work, premiered at MONA in Tasmania and described thus: “If Louis Armstrong went to the moon instead of Neil Armstrong it would have sounded like this.”

Issho

Jessica Carlton’s band Issho   (Image supplied)

Good things come out of Perth, I always say of jazz talent, but they also come out of Monash University, which is a kernel of creativity. Young trumpeter-composer Jessica Carlton won the Monash Jazz Prize with a piece played by Issho, the band she formed in 2012. The sextet includes Tim Willis, leader of The End. Expect to be delighted.

And, though I’ve never heard them play, I’m already grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of enjoying Greening From Ear to Ear, a septet formed by the inimitable James Greening (adding tuba and sousaphone to his trombone and to-die-for pocket trumpet) including Andrew Robson on alto and baritone sax. If this is not a festival highlight then I’m a fan of Scott Morrison.

In the National Jazz Awards year of guitar, judges James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format with Danny Fischer and Frank Di Sario on bass. Expect them to explore the works of John Scofield and Pat Metheny.

Already I can feel the pressure of festival clashes building, but for lovers of the elegant and uplifting venue Holy Trinity Cathedral, pianist and composer Tony Gould will perform in duo concerts with multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons and, a little surprisingly, with Hoodangers trombonist Ben Gillespie. Hard to resist these if you’re looking for memorable gigs.

And in that listening space, Paul Grabowsky AO and Steve Grant will each perform solo piano concerts on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, this year’s Don Banks Award winner Mike Nock, who has provided many memorable moments at Wangaratta, nationally and internationally, will play in a Trio Plus Two at WPAC Theatre.

Put Tim Neal on the WPAC Theatre stage with his Hammond B3, add Dave Beck on drums and I’m already in the front row. But Stephen Magnusson’s Kinfolk also has Frank Di Sario, so expect seats to be hard to find for this Sunday arvo outing.

A quintet led by pianist Sam Keevers will play compositions by the late great Bernie McGann, ensuring his inspirational work stays with us.

And The Hoodangers may shock visiting New Zealanders, given that the Gulf News reportedly described their performance in that country in this way: “The egotistical performers …their names are not worth mentioning…..should not be invited to spread their ‘smut’ on our beautiful island and attract such ‘slutty’ behaviour from our young!!”

Many more bands deserve mention, but for serendipitous moments and memorable gigs those mentioned are likely candidates. But who knows what will be the highlights for the many patrons now looking forward to Friday.  Being in the right place is the key, and Wangaratta is the right place this Cup weekend.

ROGER MITCHELL

The National Jazz Awards feature guitarists this year and top 10 finalists will compete for the increased prize pool of $12,000. The 10 finalists are:

  • Michael Anderson, 32, from Sydney
  • Quentin Angus, 27, from New York (originally from Adelaide)
  • David Gooey, 30, from Melbourne
  • Ryan Griffith, 34, from Melbourne
  • Peter Koopman, 25, from Sydney
  • Paul Mason, 23, from Sydney
  • Carl Morgan, 26, from Sydney (originally from Canberra)
  • Hugh Stuckey, 29, from Melbourne (originally from Adelaide)
  • Jeremy Thomson, 22, from Perth
  • Oliver Thorpe, 22, from Sydney

For the usual excellent profiles of the finalists, visit Miriam Zolin’s jazz publishing website.

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UPTOWN HOSTS PAPER TIGER

Paper Tiger

CD LAUNCH: Paper Tiger, featuring Oehlers/Magnusson/Vanderwal at Uptown Jazz Cafe, 8.30pm (two sets)

To give a taste of what’s in store, here is Uptown’s take on proceedings:

“Jamie Oehlers (tenor and soprano saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) are three widely recognised and acclaimed Australian jazz artists, who came together in 2013 to perform each others’ original material in Perth and Melbourne.

“The results were undeniably strong – so much so that they are getting back together again in Melbourne to record a new album over this week, with this performance being a prequel to that recording.

“With distinctly different writing styles, the material will be diverse, drawn together by the always clear and unique voices of these three exceptional musicians.”

And here’s another take on this album:

“In 2013 these three fine musicians got together to perform and enjoyed the results so much they coaxed each other to go into the studio and record an album. Once in there, with the red light on they couldn’t stop, they tied the sound engineer to his chair and proceeded to record 15 songs (all available on their new release, Paper Tiger.

“The resulting music is a diverse range of colours, grooves and timbres. Each member has a very distinct writing style but the compositions are approached as a collective. You can hear the band revelling in the freedom of the bass less trio format and revelling in the knowledge they do not have to check in a double bass at the oversize counter the next day.”

Paper Tiger features five compositions by Oehlers, three each by Magnusson and Vanderwal, as well as pieces by each of Keith Jarrett, Frank Loesser, Ornette Coleman and Stephen Foster.

And our ABC has this to say about the album:

“Audacious but approachable, eclectic yet focused, Paper Tiger presents a new instrumental trio. No stranger to each other, each member is a highly regarded improvising Australian: guitarist Stephen Magnusson, saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and drummer Ben Vanderwal.

Paper Tiger has compositions by each member of the trio, plus very fresh explorations of other composers’ work – from Ornette Coleman to Stephen Foster.

“So limber is this trio that a casual listener may be surprised to discover it ‘lacks’ a bass player. Good humour, lyricism and surprise are abundant.”

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

A VOICE TO PROPEL AND PUNCTUATE

Daniel Wilfred

Daniel Wilfred

REVIEW: CD launch, Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 — The Ghost Dances, Young Wägilak Group & Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Tuesday 27 May, 2014

This was a CD launch and a live music performance. It was also a challenging and moving personal experience that has stayed with me over the months since it took place — in the brief lull between two significant jazz festivals in Melbourne.

I had heard about Crossing Roper’s Bar, a musical collaboration over nine years in which the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the Australian Art Orchestra to explore in a contemporary way the manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu people of South East Arnhem Land. I had never heard the music, but had long wanted to.

I had expectations only that what the initiator of the project, Paul Grabowsky, had said was based on “an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centred on music” would be fascinating and could take me anywhere. Grabowsky has a habit of not disappointing. But, of course, there were many other musicians involved in this rare live performance — many known to me through jazz, but two indigenous musicians who were an unknown quantity.

Looking back on this performance, I regret that it was sandwiched between periods of intense jazz festival activity at Stonnington Jazz and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. It deserved to have its own space in my head, time for reflection and for its depth to sink in. Yet, despite my need to move on in “festival review” mode, I find that this concert lingers. It will not go away.

An important element in that lasting impact came in the contributions of indigenous musicians of the Young Wägilak Group and traditional ceremony men from Ngukurr on the Roper River Daniel Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and dancer) and David Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and didgeridoo).

The AAO musicians were Paul Grabowsky (Musical Director and piano), Tony Hicks (saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Niko Schauble (drums). and Philip Rex (double bass).

It was an impressive line-up from the AAO, but this outing was indeed “an equal exchange”. Soon after Grabowsky spoke briefly about this music taking us to another place, outside time and yet about time as well as identity and creation, I found myself focusing especially on the voice and words of Daniel Wilfred. It was mesmerising and powerful.

The orchestra members began with minimalist contributions, at times explosive chatter and seemingly disconnected, so that Daniel’s voice and clap stick interventions were a sharp shock. But as the music progressed his voice became a unifying force as well as a form of punctuation, halting proceedings before the next “movement”. At times I found it had the propulsion of swing.

Grabowsky and Magnusson played together, the guitar producing sounds that were visceral, animal and alive, sometimes gobbling. Hicks, who was exquisitely expressive on his wide range of instruments throughout, delivered a long, moving clarinet solo before a vocal and clap stick cut-off. Then Rex and Schauble delivered strong stuff that led to a fiery finish of another segment.

Daniel and David Wilfred

Daniel and David Wilfred

There were many extremes and variations as each of two sets progressed, ranging from frenzy to tiny chirrups to what sounded like storm clouds bristling with distant thunder. The music became eerie or piercing or an onslaught. It was harsh, then it softened. It was unsettling, then it was evocative of much time passing — possibly eons.

But throughout this diversity, the powerful binding force was Daniel’s voice and presence. His vocals seemed disembodied, floating free in space and not emerging just from the mic and speakers. David’s didgeridoo was welcome, but the most impact came in his brother’s voice. I could have just listened and let the sounds fill everything.

At the end of the second set, Daniel spoke briefly about the effect of this project and its affect on his life. I did not catch all that he said, but his pride and strength was evident.

As this is a review, albeit belated, it should have a verdict, I suppose — though no star rating will be offered. So, did it work to bring creative jazz musicians together with musicians from Arnhem Land? Can these cultures find common ground?

From this one experience, and from listening to the album many times, I find that question to be somehow irrelevant. It’s a fair question and someone raised it with me, but I did not find disparity in the music and I did not find myself thinking in terms of the indigenous and non-indigenous parts of the whole.

I’m not sure that I fully grasped where the music took us on the night, but the experience will stay with me. I would urge anyone to take the opportunity to hear this collaboration in whatever form it takes in future — whether live or recorded, but preferably live.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: The album Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 – The Ghost Dances was recorded in 2012 and features the Young Wägilak Group from Arnhem Land led by Benjamin Wilfred and AAO musicians, Erkki Veltheim (violin), Paul Grabowsky (piano), Tony Hicks (saxophone/flute), Philip Rex (bass) and Niko Schäuble (drums).

From the AAO notes: “The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr, which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.”